By James McMahon
The Allianz Football League resumes this weekend with a total of nine teams still searching for their first points. It may be early in the campaign, but another loss could turn what is a steep hill into a quest to scale Mount Everest with regard to promotion and reaching the Division 1 semi-finals. Also one eye will immediately be focused on avoiding the spectre of relegation.
So what of those who are probably feeling the heat at this stage of the campaign?
It’s a case of déjà vu for the Kingdom. Last year they were also pointless at this stage. In fact they went on to lose two more games before embarking on a recovery mission that saw them preserve their top flight status.
News of Colm Cooper’s injury will have hit the county hard. It will be 2015 before we get a chance to see his silken skills on the playing fields again. In the immediate term Bryan Sheehan and Jonathan Lyne are also sidelined Darran O'Sullivan, who had a double-hip operation last October, is back in training.
The Dr Crokes contingent are available again, as is Marc Ó Sé and Killian Young, so at least there is some good news for manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
Kerry lost out narrowly in their two games so far and the ‘Gooch’s’ absence is sure to drive the side on in their pursuit of points in the weeks ahead. Indeed, former boss Jack O’Connor called for ‘certain’ members of the squad to stand up and be counted now that their star forward will not be around.
Division 1 is a competitive beast this year, however, and Kerry will probably have to pick up something from their trip to Mayo this weekend. That won’t be easy. After that is a home game with Tyrone - always a feisty affair - before what could prove to be a tricky away trip to Kildare.
Before the start of the League, RTÉ pundit Tommy Carr tipped Kerry to be relegated. While such a fate would be a disappointment, it wouldn't necessarily define their year. The squad are still good enough to see competitive action come August.
However, Kerry will always feel that they should be mixing it with the big boys in spring. Their performances between now and early April will be closely monitored, for if anything to see how they intend to fill the cap vacated by Colm Cooper.
It probably won’t feature among the games of the year when such a list is compiled but Mayo’s tussle with Kildare on 2 February had much to offer in the way of good football and score-taking. The Green and Red lost out by a point and a draw was probably a fairer result.
A week later, they went down by five points to Tyrone in a match where they missed some great chances for goals early on. Afterwards manager James Horan stressed that Mayo need to “smarten up” but he was confident that they would.
No doubt the Mayo will relish the opportunity to play their first game at home this weekend when Kerry come calling. With the likes of Donal Vaughan, Seamus O’Shea and Enda Varley all set to return to the squad following injuries, Horan will hope that such a boost will translate to a victory against the Kingdom.
Such an outcome will surely have Mayo in a better frame of mind for an away trip to Westmeath and a match they would feel is winnable. Two wins on the bounce could really kick-start their year.
A competitive showing in the first half against Cork was matched for long periods in their tussle with Dublin. Still Westmeath had nothing to show for it all, but boss Paul Bealin is in the process of putting his own stamp on affairs and the experience of playing in the top flight will stand to his side.
A visit to Derry next weekend on paper looks a difficult assignment, yet both teams were the pacesetters in Division 2 last season.
Westmeath are capable of getting some points on the board this spring. However, it may not be enough to keep them up.
The westerners lie bottom of the second tier, but directly above them are Armagh and Louth on one point. No need for panic, you might add, yet Galway’s defeat to Donegal the last day was as clear cut as could be.
I, for one, thought Alan Mullholland’s side would be in the shakeup for promotion. It might still happen, but serious improvement is needed. On day one they lost a high-scoring and thoroughly enjoyable encounter against Meath. However, when you consider what Monaghan did to the Royals in round two, it shows the level that Galway must reach in the weeks ahead.
Away games to Laois and Louth and a home assignment against Down are upcoming. A return of two wins out of three would be a satisfactory outcome.
One win in 13 games across League and Championship since the start of last year is what Longford have registered. Former Dublin star has a big job on his hands at the helm of the midlanders. 2014 began with defeats to Roscommon and Limerick.
Fermanagh are the visitors to Pearse Park on Sunday. A victory would no doubt ease the pressure before an away game against an Offaly – another side whose target will be to survive in the Division.
I have referenced them above and yes it’s all about survival, with Faithful boss Emmet McDonnell making it clear that preserving their third tier status is the goal following their defeat to Cavan. Their campaign began with a loss to Wexford.
Last season McDonnell masterminded a promotion and in the process instilled a confidence into Offaly football that had been missing for a while.
Their quest for points resumes with a trip to Sligo. It’s not an impossible task and a result would set them up nicely for the visit of Longford a week later.
Many people’s favourites to emerge from the Division, but that confidence has been dented with back-to-back defeats against Leitrim and Wicklow.
With Liam ‘Baker’ Bradley back in command, Saffron fans would have expected more. Will realistically have to win all their remaining matches if promotion is to be achieved.
The first step on that road should result in a home victory over Waterford this weekend.
So Carlow have only played one game, but it resulted in a 19-point defeat to Tipperary at home. With games against Leitrim and Antrim to come, you wouldn’t be too confident of them getting on the board.
Not being ranked 32nd in the rankings at the end of the League would be deemed a success.
No bounce so far this campaign for the Exiles following their exploits of last summer. A nine-point defeat to Clare in Ruislip last Sunday followed up a 11-point reverse against Wicklow in the opening round.
Next up are promotion hopefuls Tipperary, who will be keen to atone for only drawing at home to Waterford the last day.
Live radio coverage of the Allianz Football League meetings of Dublin v Cork, Laois v Galway and Meath v Armagh on An tSraith Náisiúnta from 19:00 on Saturday 1 March on RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).
Live coverage and updates of all the day’s action on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).
Television highlights on League Sunday from 19:30 on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).